Tesla claims a Bloomberg article, profiling iPhone hacker George Hotz and the self-driving car he made in his own garage in a month, tells a story that is "extremely unlikely". The electric car maker believes the article did not correctly represent it, or the company that helps develop its Autopilot self-driving feature.
George Hotz, according to the article and accompanying video, has retrofitted an autonomous driving system to a 2016 Acura ILX. The system uses laser-based radar (lidar) and cameras to feed images into a computer that then controls the steering, gears and pedals. The 26-year-old, who was the first person to jailbreak the original iPhone back in 2007, demonstrated how the car can drive itself on the public roads near his neighbourhood in San Francisco.
Speaking of Mobileye, the company that develops technology used by a wide number of car makers for autonomous driving, automatic braking and pedestrian alerts, Hotz said: "It's absurd. They're a company that's behind the times, and they have not caught up." Mobileye's technology is one of many that the Tesla Model S uses to drive itself when the new Autopilot feature is switched on.
But Tesla and its owner Elon Musk are not impressed with Hotz's achievements – or with the article, which was written by Ashlee Vance, who also published a biography of Musk earlier this year. Despite providing interviews for the book, Musk states some of the claims it makes are untrue.
A tweet sent by Musk described the article as "inaccurate". A follow-up explained how he had not written Tesla's statement, but had agreed to put his name to it.
In a statement on its website, Tesla says: "We think it is extremely unlikely that a single person or even a small company that lacks extensive engineering validation capability will be able to produce an autonomous driving system that can be deployed to production vehicles. It may work as a limited demo on a known stretch of road – Tesla had such a system two years ago – but then requires enormous resources to debug over millions of miles of widely differing roads."
Confusing a dog for a potted plant
Tesla continues: "Getting a machine-learning system to be 99% correct is relatively easy, but getting it to be 99.9999% correct...is vastly more difficult. One can see this with the annual machine vision competitions, where the computer will properly identify something as a dog more than 99% of the time, but might occasionally call it a potted plant. Making such mistakes at 70mph would be highly problematic."
The company also has an issue with how the article claims Hotz built his system using on-the-shelf components bought on a low budget. "Were [creating an autonomous car] simply a matter of repackaging a vendor's technology, as claimed in the article," Tesla says, "we would not be unique in offering this groundbreaking experience in production vehicles."
Finally, defending Mobileye, Tesla concludes: "Their part is the best in the world at what it does and that is why we use it."